The California Water Service Company has asked the state Public Utilities Commission to approve its drought plan, effective June 1, which proposes a "water budget" based on a reduction from past use for each customer, with penalties for using more than the budgeted amount of water.
Penalties would also be charged for "misuse or waste" of water, with repeat or egregious violations punished by the installation of flow restricting devices or cutting off of service.
Cal Water's Bear Gulch District covers Atherton, Portola Valley, most of Woodside, and parts of Menlo Park and Redwood City. The district must cut water use by 36 percent from 2013 levels. Last year the district reduced its water use by 11 percent from 2013 levels.
The proposed plan, which Cal Water Bear Gulch District manager Dawn Smithson said the state PUC is expected to decide on by May 28, says the minimum water budget will be 600 cubic feet of water, or 4,488 gallons a month per customer. That minimum is set, the plan says, at 55 gallons per person per day, multiplied by the average number of persons in a household in our area according to federal census data.
Ms. Smithson said the water district is also asking the cities and towns the district covers to adopt the rules as local laws.
The water budget, Ms. Smithson said, will be 36 percent below what the customer used in the same period in 2013. Each month's water bill will say what the next month's budget is; and if all that budgeted water is not used, it can be "rolled-over" to the next month.
No water budget will be below the minimum of 600 cubic feet per month (6 CCF or 4,448 gallons).
The penalty for exceeding a water budget is fairly low: $10 per 100 cubic feet (or 1 CCF, about 748 gallons) of water over the budgeted amount, plus the usual tiered rate for the water used. Customers in Cal Water's special program for low-income water users will pay half the penalty.
Water budgets can also be appealed if the water user feels they have special conditions requiring additional water.
Cal Water's proposed plan has four stages of increasingly severe restrictions. Ms. Smithson said the company has asked the PUC to start in Stage 2. Progressing to the more restrictive stages would require further PUC approval, she said.
"Moving between the stages in the plan is dependent on a number of factors," Ms. Smithson said, "the most important of which is water supply conditions and the ongoing severity of the drought."
Water use restrictions
Separate from the water budgets are water use restrictions.
The proposal says that Cal Water can impose the penalties "when its personnel verify a customer is using potable water for non-essential, wasteful uses."
A first violation of the restrictions will result in a "real-time water measurement device" being installed on a customer's service line, with the customer paying the cost of installing and operating the device.
A second violation will result in a fine of $50 in the Stage 2 restrictions; a third violation will result in a $100 fine; and a fourth violation (or an "egregious" violation, which is not defined) will result in the installation of a flow-restricting device on the service line.
The flow restricting device will allow at least 300 cubic feet of water (2,244 gallons or 3 CCF) per person per month. Cal Water can discontinue customer service if the customer continues to waste water even with the flow restricting device, the plan proposes.
Once a flow restricting device has been installed, it must remain for at least three days, or until a customer can prove they have made changes to avoid wasting water.
Wasteful uses of potable water under the Stage 2 restrictions include:
● Irrigating landscaping more than three days a week, or between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Customers with even-numbered addresses may irrigate on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; those with odd-numbered addresses may irrigate on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. (Landscape irrigation systems that use only drip and micro-spray do not have to follow the time or day of week restrictions; nor does hand-held watering with a hose if it has a shut-off nozzle.)
● Irrigation that causes runoff onto non-irrigated areas.
● Filling or re-filling a single family home swimming pool or hot tub, except existing, already-filled pools and hot tubs may be topped off.
● Washing vehicles unless the hose has a cut-off nozzle.
● Using water in a water feature unless the water is recirculated.
● Watering outdoor landscaping within 48 hours of rainfall of more than 0.1 inch.
● Washing driveways or sidewalks.
● Irrigating any ornamental landscaping on public street medians.
● Using anything but drip irrigation and micro-sprays on the landscaping for new homes and buildings.
● Filling or refilling ornamental lakes or ponds.
Any leaks, breaks or malfunctions must be repaired within five business days. Drinking water can be served in restaurants only upon request and hotels and motels must offer customers the option of not having their towels and bedding laundered daily.
The plan says that Cal Water will adopt further regulations imposed by local governments or the state.
If the Stage 3 plan is implemented, the surcharge for going over a water budget may be tripled (from $10 for 100 cubic feet of water to $30 per 100 cubic feet of water); irrigation will be reduced to two days a week and any leaks must be repaired in two days. Swimming pools and hot tubs may not be filled or topped off. Penalties for wasting water go up to $100 on a second violation and $200 on a third violation.
In Stage 4, the surcharge remains tripled; irrigating ornamental landscape is only allowed by hand with a bucket or hose with a shut-off valve. Any leaks must be repaired in one day. Penalties for wasting water go up to $200 on a second violation and $400 on a third violation.
The plan says that penalties collected for water wasting will be used to pay expenses of implementing the drought program. Extra money collected for going beyond a water budget will be "used to offset under-collected revenues."